Dread of what the oligarchs will try next



Jane Byrne
  • Jane Byrne
During the winter of 1979, after Jane Byrne beat Daley-machine seat warmer Michael Bilandic to become mayor of Chicago, Mike Royko began his daily newspaper column like so:

"It was the most stunning upset in the long, wild history of Chicago politics and this column is about the single most important person involved in that incredible upset—the remarkable individual who made it happen.

"And who would that be?

"No, I'm not talking about some brilliant campaign manager, or media manipulator, or generous back-room financier, or any of the other political operatives who usually get top billing in day-after-election stories.

"And, no, it isn't about Jane Byrne, although little Ms. Sourpuss finally has something to smile about.

"This column is about you. That's right—YOU there, on the L train or bus, or in your kitchen reading this over morning coffee. You, at your punch press, or in your firehouse, or hospital cafeteria. You, behind the counter at the department store, or jockeying the cab or unloading that truck.

"You did it, you wild and crazy Chicagoans."

I thought of those lines when Barack Obama took the presidency four years ago and thought of them again on Tuesday, when he repeated the feat. (I'd have transcribed Royko's entire, gorgeous utterance into this post if I'd been able to find it; it's a disgrace to American culture that even the fragment given here is hard to dig up.)

Like the cafeteria workers and cabbies of Chicago did back then, Obama's partisans overcame the infinite funds, entrenched interests, low tactics, and frank prejudice of an antiquated but fierce oligarchy to win and win. As I remember it, Royko warned us later in his column that the triumph would probably turn sour—and it did, in short order, when Byrne started building her own machine out of pieces of the old one. But he also advised us, just then, to be proud of ourselves. And so we should be now.

OK. Done? Time to move on to the question of how the oligarchs are planning to get theirs back.

And you can be sure they'll try. After all, Byrne's reign led eventually to Council Wars, when white aldermen stymied everything Chicago's first black mayor, Harold Washington, tried to do (sound familiar?). Not much later the young dauphin, Richard M. Daley, was installed in the mayor's seat.

Right now it's kind of fun to watch the anti-Obama fops and hardheads melt down. Karl Rove trying to bargain his way out of the numbers as a commentator on Fox TV. Donald Trump threatening revolution, apparently under the false impression that Obama lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College. (How dare they steal the election! That's our job!) Ted Nugent just plain going berserk with tweets like "Goodluk America u just voted for economic & spiritual suicide. Soulless fools." Even SNL has-been-turned-Christian-zealot Victoria Jackson calling down the social-network equivalent of fire and brimstone: "I can't stop crying. America died . . . The Democrat Party voted God out and replaced Him with Romans 1. In the Good vs. Evil battle . . . Evil won . . . Thanks a lot Christians, for not showing up. You disgust me."

But they hardly matter in the long run. What matters in the long run is that if I were Sheldon Adelson, say, or one of the Koch brothers, I'd be thinking two things after Obama's win: (a) electoral politics is way too expensive and uncertain as a method for imposing my agenda on the United States. And therefore, (b) next time around I'll try some thing that bypasses the will of the people.

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